The best ways to maximize Air Canada’s Aeroplan program

Feb 5, 2021

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Air Canada’s loyalty program, Aeroplan, is a favorite among award travelers, and for good reason. It’s very easy to earn Aeroplan miles and its redemption rates are great.

The program was independently run for several years, but that all changed in November 2020 when Air Canada retook the reins and launched the completely revamped Aeroplan. Naturally, many award travelers were worried about how these changes will affect a valuable and popular loyalty program. However, it wasn’t all bad news and the pros of the new program seem to outweigh the cons. Most notably, the award chart hasn’t gone away.

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An Air Canada Airbus A330-300. (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)
An Airbus A330 taking off. (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)

In This Post

Recent changes to Aeroplan

Although Air Canada is maintaining the Aeroplan brand, several changes have been introduced now that the new loyalty program launched.

Aeroplan has introduced a revamped award chart, new redemption options and an innovative family points pooling program, among other features. Redemption rates went up in some cases, but that’s been offset in many cases with the elimination of hefty carrier-imposed surcharges. That said, there is now a CA$39 ($29) per-person partner booking fee – a relatively small tradeoff.

Perhaps the most valuable change is the generous new open-jaw and stopover policy. You can now add stopovers for 5,000 points each — two for each round-trip itinerary and one for each one-way trip — on all awards except within North America. This essentially allows you to build multiple trips into one award. This change is especially welcome, considering that Aeroplan removed the ability to book Round-The-World (RTW) awards and multi-city tickets in Sept. 2019.

Redeeming Aeroplan points for maximum value

You can redeem Aeroplan points for flights to more than 1,300 destinations on more than 35 partners worldwide. Partners include Star Alliance carriers, as well as some non-alliance partners like Azul and Etihad. Plus, you can mix and match partners as you see fit.

Aeroplan’s award chart is incredibly valuable, both for short-haul economy flights or international premium-cabin seats, particularly on partner airlines. While some redemption rates have gone up, they may actually be a better deal now due to the elimination of carrier surcharges.

Air Canada’s own flights have variable pricing to make every one of its seats available for award booking. However, unlike fully dynamic programs, there are caps on award costs. Partner awards have a fixed price based on a chart.

Let’s take a closer look at the award charts. The Aeroplan program effectively uses a hybrid award chart factoring in both the distance you fly and the departure and arrival regions. 

Related: 19 things you need to know about redeeming with the new Aeroplan

Within North America

The chart below shows the one-way award costs for Aeroplan awards within North America, with round-trip awards available for double the cost.

(Photo by Air Canada)

The best sweet spot here is for the short-haul economy flights less than 500 miles, which cost just 6,000 miles. TPG values Aeroplan points at 1.5 cents each, so these miles are worth about $90. Routes under 500 miles include Toronto to New York, New York to Boston and Boston to Washington D.C.

Related: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award flights

Some of these short-haul flights can be incredibly expensive at times, such as these $600+ one-way flights from Montreal to Washington Dulles (IAD). You can book these awards for 6,000 to 10,000 Aeroplan points.

Longer economy flights within North America currently generally price out between 10,000 miles and 12,500 miles each way, which is pretty much the industry average. The one exception is flights over 2,751 miles, such as from the East Coast to Hawaii, which range between 17,500 and 25,000 miles. The benefit of using Aeroplan is the flexible transfer options you have for earning miles in the first place. 

Another option would be to book transcontinental business-class flights on United, especially on routes like Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) operated by the shiny new 787-10s. That’s because Aeroplan doesn’t charge a premium for these longer routes. Transcon business class awards operated by United continue to cost just 25,000 points each way.

Related: How (and when) to book United awards through partners

United Polaris (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
United Polaris on the 787-10. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Travel to Europe

Aeroplan really shines when it comes to award rates for long-haul travel – even more so now that Aeroplan has eliminated fuel surcharges. In the past, you could have paid close to $1,000 each way in fees for a first-class award from the U.S. to Europe, eating away at the value of your “free” award, but that isn’t the case anymore.

Generally, when traveling from the continental U.S. to Europe on one of Air Canada’s partners, you’ll pay 35,000 to 40,000 points for economy, 60,000 to 70,000 points for business and 90,000 to 100,000 points for first class. To give you a better idea, a flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) is roughly 3,900 miles and Los Angeles (LAX) to Frankfurt (FRA) is about 5,800 miles.

(Photo by Air Canada)

The sweet spot here is booking Lufthansa or Swiss first class. But regardless of which cabin you end up in, you’ll generally redeem fewer miles than if you were to book through another Star Alliance program like United MileagePlus.

Lufthansa first class on the Boeing 747-8. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Travel to Asia

You can also get great deals heading west. Partner awards between North American and the Pacific cost 35,000 to 75,000 points in coach, 55,000 to 105,000 in business and 90,000 to 140,000 in first.

Take, for instance, a flight from Seattle (SEA) to Tokyo (HND) operated by ANA. This route is just under 5,000 miles in distance, so a business-class ticket would cost 55,000 points. Cash fares are usually upwards of $3,000 each way, yielding a value of over 5 cents per point, which is phenomenal.

(Photo by Air Canada)

Aeroplan also deserves some credit for keeping some of the longest journeys reasonably priced. The maximum you’ll ever pay for a one-way partner award is 80,000 points in coach, 140,000 in business and 200,000 — and that’s for ultra-long-haul itineraries over 11,000 miles between the Pacific region and South America.

(Photo by Air Canada)

Hidden gems of redeeming with Aeroplan

Aeroplan is one of the best loyalty programs for families. Aside from the new family pooling feature, Aeroplan charges some of the lowest fees for traveling with a lap infant. Infant awards are free for travel wholly within Canada and between Canada and the United States and cost just CA$25 ($19) or 2,500 points for all other itineraries.

(Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)
Aeroplan is very family-friendly. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)

As previously mentioned, with the revamped program, you can now also add stopovers for just 5,000 points each. You can add one stopover for each one-way trip and two for each round-trip itinerary. Just note that flights within North America aren’t eligible for stopovers.

Another great thing about Aeroplan is that it offers an incredibly reliable search engine for Star Alliance award availability. Aeroplan also does a great job (literally) of highlighting mixed-cabin itineraries, so there’s no confusion about what class of service you’re actually booking. Additionally, Aeroplan’s new booking engine was designed to minimize phantom award availability — a fairly common problem in the past. Points + Cash redemption rates have been improved as well.

Related: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

How to earn Aeroplan miles

There are several ways to easily earn Aeroplan miles, though one option worth considering would be crediting revenue flights on Star Alliance airlines to Aeroplan. Especially with United’s shift to dynamic pricing, frequent travelers might find themselves getting a higher return by crediting flights to Aeroplan instead of United MileagePlus.

Air Canada flights now earn miles based on the fare type and amount spent:

  • Basic economy: 2 miles per Canadian dollar spent
  • Standard, Flex/Comfort and Latitude economy: 3 miles per Canadian dollar spent
  • Premium economy: 3 miles per Canadian dollar spent
  • Business class: 3 miles per Canadian dollar spent

However, earnings on partner flights are still based on the distance traveled and class of service. Earning rates vary by partner, but to give you an idea, United tickets accrue points at the following rates:

(Photo by Air Canada)

In addition to Star Alliance members and Connecting Partners, there are several other carriers you can earn Aeroplan points with. These include Azul, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, GOL and Olympic Air.

Aeroplan also partners with several transferable points programs, letting you instantly top up your account when you’re ready to book an award. You can transfer points to Aeroplan at the following ratios:

If you’re looking to build up your Aeroplan balance quickly, consider applying for one of these credit cards to take advantage of a valuable welcome offer:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Terms apply.
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 125,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms apply.
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. Terms apply
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Alternatively, Air Canada gives the option to buy miles. Points cost as low as 3 Canadian cents apiece (2.3 U.S. cents), but you can potentially get them for much less during a buy-miles promotion. Aeroplan members are allowed to buy up to 250,000 miles per transaction and up to 500,000 miles per calendar year.

Like many other frequent flyer programs Aeroplan also lets you earn points without additional travel or spending. Aeroplan has its own online shopping portal, along with partnerships with many major brands, including Uber Eats.

You can now also pool points with your family. You’re able to link up to eight family member’s Aeroplan accounts and share your miles for award redemptions.

Related: How to earn miles with the new Aeroplan program

Bottom line

Air Canada’s new Aeroplan program is here. It appears that Air Canada understood the value of the old Aeroplan to its customers and is aiming to preserve that value. All in all, the new program is an upgrade and there are plenty of ways to get terrific value from your points, particularly on partner awards like United. Thanks to Aeroplan’s many partners, there are also many ways to boost your points balance without flying.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured photo of the Maple Leaf Lounge by Zach Griff/ The Points Guy

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